The Fire head into Colorado off the heels of a win in our home opener, carrying some momentum into Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Rapids, meanwhile, started MLS 2012 play with 2 wins, but got handed a 4-1 drubbing by New York last week. The Rapids midfield tandem of Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni were missing, and the Rapids paid for it. Larentowicz will be back and Mastroeni may play too, but they will have the tough job of trying to handle a hot Dominic Oduro and the rest of the Fire attack. Although we went away from the 3 Questions format last week, the now familiar weekly tradition is back. We talked with Chris "UZ" White over at Burgundy Wave. You know the routine: the first questions appears below, and the rest will be after the break.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Burgundy Wave
1. How concerned are the team and the fans right now after starting the season 2-0 but getting thumped by New York 4-1 this last weekend? Do you feel there is a lack of confidence or any doubt surrounding the team after the loss? (via Rudy Gomez)
There's not much concern, really. The lifeblood of the team has been the central midfield pairing of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz the past few years and with both out, most of us weren't expecting great things. If nothing else, I'm pleasantly surprised that the team was able to maintain their composure after that awful first 10 minutes of the game play and actually make it look like a game for about 60 minutes. There's still kinks in the system so an away game like that against a tough team like New York was to be expected at some point, especially with all the missing players. Now, if they have a repeat performance like that against the Fire at home with Larentowicz back, it's time to be concerned.
2. Tell us about newcomer Martin Rivero. Although he has been working out with the Rapids and gaining match fitness, the team finally received his ITC, which was the final hurdle in Rivero seeing MLS action. How match fit do you think he really is (training is a bit different than getting time in full games)? Also, what kind of role do you think we will see in his debut against the Fire this weekend? (via Tweed Thornton)
Rivero is a bit of an enigma in all honesty. We never saw him in a preseason game so his play in a full out team setting is still a mystery, but we do know that he has great passing abilities and a bullet of a shot, something the Rapids lacked in the midfield before picking up Rivero and Tony Cascio as well. For all the hype that he got about being a 'True #10' I think we're more likely to see him play one of the high striker/winger positions in Pareja's 4-3-3 formation rather than attacking midfielder, where Jaime Castrillon and Pablo Mastroeni have the starting spots on lock right now. I doubt he's going to play the full 90 minutes just because he hasn't played a while, but if he's got the quality that people say he has he should do fine with 45.
Essentially, if Mastroeni is still out you might see Rivero start either in Tony Cascio's place up top with Cascio moving into the midfield or vice versa. If Mastroeni is playing I expect Rivero to be a super sub for a second half spark, just to get him some playing time and move him towards full fitness.
3. Talk to me a little bit about the new head coach. From 2008-2011, the Rapids employed Gary Smith. Newcomer Oscar Pareja is in his first year in command. How does his approach differ from Smith in terms of team philosophy/ strategy? What sort of things are Rapids fans looking for from Pareja in his first year? (via Ryan Sealock)
It's like night and day, the two managers. Smith preferred a hard-nosed, very wide game that featured most of the goals coming from service off the fullbacks and wingers to the strikers in the box, along with a lot of clogging of the midfield. Pareja's system is a 4-3-3 which looks more like an attack oriented 4-5-1 honestly. It features a very sparse midfield with high and roaming winger/striker hybrids and the defenders doing more defending than attacking while play goes through the center. At the very least, it's been a lot more fun to watch so far. Pareja knows his stuff tactically, as fans we're more focused on how his managerial work goes, how he gets the team through tough spots and works formations when players are out.
He showed great promise in those departments against Philly, less so against New York. To his credit, he took all the blame for perhaps not putting the correct roster out and not preparing the team correctly after the 4-1 loss. So far I think we've liked what we've seen from Oscar. A lot of people disliked the Smith firing, but after seeing what Oscar has brought to the table I think he has the potential to take the Rapids much farther than a, let's face it, fluky MLS Cup win every so often.
Burgundy Wave Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Chicago are a tough team for me to parse. They looked good last season but couldn't seem to close the deal on a lot of games, resulting in that record for the most draws in MLS history. Where do you see the Fire ending up this season, will they turn all of those draws into wins or perhaps win just enough more to make the playoffs with the points they earn from tying?
I think most Fire fans, including myself, are very confident that the Fire will make the playoffs. In fact, I personally think we can be in the top 3 in the East by season end. The talent is there, and the conference seems to also be there for the taking. In terms of all the draws last year, I think unquestionably a large reason for that was the huge roster turnover we had from 2010. A large majority of the roster from the 2010 season had departed heading into the 2011 season. That is never a recipe for a solid start to a new season.
That many new faces simply have to have time to gel and learn to play together. This coming together began to evidence itself in mid August, and the team went on a 7-2-1 tear to end the season. This 2012 team clearly has the talent and familiarity with each other to turn those draws into wins this season. We look to go deep into the playoffs in 2012.
2. Tell me a young or perhaps under-utilized player from the Fire that we might not have heard of before that might play into the match and get our attention during the game.
I am going to go with a player that most fans (unless you are a Fire fan that is) have not heard of. We signed a young Italian goalkeeper by the name of Paolo Tornaghi this season. He is a product of the Inter Milan youth system and at the young age of 23 has played beyond his years thus far for the Fire in 2012. It started with some impressive preseason performances. It carried over into the first 2 games of the 2012 season as Paolo was given the starting nod in place of normal 'keeper Sean Johnson, who was away on U23 Olympic qualifying. Unfortunately the qualifiers ended in heartbreak, and Sean has just rejoined the team. However, given the disappointing loss and travel that Sean has had recently, he will most likely not start Sunday.
Fire fans have a huge amount of confidence in Paolo. He truly has played magnificently so far in 2012 and will definitely be one to watch if he is between the sticks. He seems to have good field vision, brings great poise in goal for someone his age, and has certainly made his share of highlight reel saves so far. Despite this being a new player in a new league, Paolo has really stood tall. If he keeps this tremendous form up, head coach Frank Klopas could have quite the starting goalkeeper battle on his hands. Whether Sean or Paolo start, we are pretty fortunate in Chicago to have not one but two goalkeepers with that kind of talent. Even if Sean is not in goal Sunday, the Rapids will have quite the challenge vs. Tornaghi.
3. Ben and I discussed this in our podcast earlier in the week, Chicago doesn't seem to have many 'star' goal scoring talents. Of course the Fire have tons of guys like Oduro, Pappa and Nyarko all capable of scoring the goals for the team, who do you think is going to rise up this season and take the reins as the dangerman for the Fire?
That is a good point you make, and something most Fire fans were concerned about coming into the season: who would score the goals. We all know Dominic Oduro had a wonderful, breakout year in 2011. Given the fact that he had not put up a goal tally like that previously however, many are wondering whether it was just a fluke or a sign that he had turned a proverbial corner in his career. Fortunately, Dominic has shown so far in 2012 that last season was indeed not a fluke. He had a good preseason, and has 2 goals in 2 games already in regular season MLS play.
My biggest question personally this year is who will help him out. Oduro can't carry the scoring load by himself, and we will need someone else to step up for the Fire to reach the lofty heights we all think they can. As you mentioned, Pappa can certainly lend some goals, as well as Nyarko here and there (to be fair he is more of an assist guy though). Midfielder Sebastian Grazzini contributed some goals last year, as well as Pavel Pardo.
Two key figures to keep an eye on are Orr Barouch and Federico Puppo. Barouch is an up and coming striker who was on loan from Tigres, but was signed by the Fire permanently this offseason. Orr has also been called up to the Israel U21 team, so the talent is there. Last year, he served a role as a super sub, starting 2 games but subbing in 26 games. He had 2 goals in 2011, but showed signs of a developing striker. Fire fans have high hopes for Orr this year. Puppo is a newcomer we have not seen much of yet. He started a bit shaky in preseason, but has seemed to find a groove and should be a valuable striking option coming off the bench. If he can contribute a handful of goals this year he will have had a successful debut season in Chicago.